2018 Kia Rio LX+
You’ve come a long way, baby
Words by: Adam Allen
Really? Saying Kia has “come a long way” is belaboring a point made thousands of times.
Touché, but that’s not exactly what we mean. Despite Kia being accepted into the realm of makers of good cars, to this day a faint amazement still washes over us whenever we get into one of their products because of how far they’ve come in such a short period of time. Many years ago, a bleary eyed and swollen-in-all-the-wrong-places Kia Rio wagon (remember the RX V?) graced the Carpages Garage with its, um, presence. Using that mile marker for the lows of Kia’s then lineup and comparing it to anything they sell these days is startling. They represent one of the best values for money in the industry while gaining serious ground in design and build quality, so much so they are usually mentioned amongst segment leaders. As we walked up to Kia’s newest Rio (wearing one of the lowest trim levels available) our expectations weren’t exactly soaring. By the end of the week, our fondness for the car was overwhelming.
About that 2005 Rio you can’t let go of…
It was dreadful. Acres of cheap plastic, a downtrodden drivetrain and a driving experience that we’ll charitably describe as haphazard defined that maligned version 12 years ago. While Rio models since then have gotten considerably better, this 2018 version is good enough to vault Kia to the head of the class. It is surprisingly refined, excellent to drive and offers colossal value. Even this LX+ trimmed example offered an almost unbelievable list of features- power everything, air con, heated seats and a heated steering wheel. In this class, that is thoroughly impressive. To us, even more impressive than the standard kit was the way it drove. The Rio is now a car that is completely composed in town and on the highway, and offers up a ride that is cushier and less brittle than some of its competitors.
What number should I paint on my door at trackdays?
Easy there. Although the Rio is huge fun to toss around, leave the chase for fastest lap to the big-bore sports cars. Its engine is a 1.6 litre 4-cylinder that produces 130 horsepower and 119-foot pounds of torque which are class leading numbers. While it feels sprightly enough in the city, wringing out each gear to redline isn’t going to strain your neck muscles. And you will be able to take each gear to the extremes of the tachometer, because you can get a 6-speed manual gearbox like our tester had. It’s a good one, folks- pleasingly precise and moves through its gates with slickness and the clutch take-up is so forgiving it’ll smooth out even the sloppiest gear changes. The steering doesn’t offer much feel but is nice and accurate which conspires with the suspension to encourage you to chuck it around, all while wearing a mile-wide grin. During one of Toronto’s notoriously wretched traffic jams, we scampered off the highway to take side streets all the way to our destination. Darting from street to street, its long travel suspension was unfazed by mid-corner bumps and less than perfect tarmac; we began to relish in the seldom indulged art of driving a slow car fast. The Rio rolls, dives and squats depending on what you’re doing at the controls, but we couldn’t care less.
The Rio is no longer a penalty box inside, is it?
Let’s get one thing clear straight away- you’re not going to confuse the Rio’s interior with a luxury car. The mostly black, dour cockpit is bereft of wood trim, aluminum trim, piano black trim- actually, there’s really no trim at all. We think it’s peculiar when auto scribes note all the cost cutting measures in a car that is clearly purchased for cost cutting reasons, so we’ll stop there. Despite Kia’s decision to keep things frippery free, this interior is by no means a chore to spend time in. The seats are comfortable, sight lines are terrific, and we’ll give an additional nod to all the stuff Kia throws in. The 5” infotainment screen may be on the small side, but much more expensive cars could benefit from a lesson in its intuitiveness and speedy response to commands. It also features a backup camera with such high resolution that it would embarrass some of the systems out there on cars approaching and even cresting the $100,000 mark. The bit we like best is between the two front seats (we’re referring to the gear lever for the manual gearbox) although it’s a shame that is isn’t offered on higher trim levels.
What might go wrong?
Your friends will love joining you on journeys in your Rio, provided they aren’t relegated to the back seat. It’s pretty confining back there, and it gets worse for folks over 5”8. The engine tends to get quite boomy near the redline, although it mercifully spins at reasonable RPM at highway speeds unlike some of its competitors who incessantly bombard you with noise. The only other complaint we have we’ve already touched on, and it is that those that want to get some extra toys in their up-level Rio’s will not be able to specify the manual.
Should I buy a Kia Rio?
We think that the Rio just might be the best bet in the segment right now, so yes, you should buy one. If you are a Mom or Dad thinking of purchasing your lucky offspring their first car, the Rio is an extremely good choice. It promises to be economical to run, comes with an impressive warranty and is styled such that the kids won’t be embarrassed to park it in the school parking lot. If he or she wants to row their own gears, there aren’t many cars that are more perfect for the job of teaching one how to properly use a manual gearbox. We all must do our part to Save The Manuals!
2018 Kia Rio LX+ — Specifications
- Price as tested: $18,455
- Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger hatchback
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Engine: 1.6 litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 130 @ 6,300 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 119 @ 4,850 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 1,126 kg (2,482 lbs.)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 8.2L/100km (29 mpg)